Copyright © 2000 Terry Goodkind.
All rights reserved.
She didn't remember dying.
With an obscure sense of apprehension, she wondered if the distant angry voices drifting in to her meant she was again about to experience that transcendent ending: death.
There was absolutely nothing she could do about it if she was.
While she didn't remember dying, she dimly recalled, at some later point, solemn whispers saying that she had, saying that death had taken her, but that he had pressed his mouth over hers and filled her stilled lungs with his breath, his life, and in so doing had rekindled hers. She had had no idea who it was that spoke of such an inconceivable feat, or who "he" was.
That first night, when she had perceived the distant, disembodied voices as little more than a vague notion, she had grasped that there were people around her who didn't believe, even though she was again living, that she would remain alive through the rest of the night. But now she knew she had; she had remained alive many more nights, perhaps in answer to desperate prayers and earnest oaths whispered over her that first night.
But if she didn't remember the dying, she remembered the pain before passing into that great oblivion. The pain, she never forgot. She remembered fighting alone and savagely against all those men, men baring their teeth like a pack of wild hounds with a hare. She remembered the rain of brutal blows driving her to the ground, heavy boots slamming into her once she was there, and the sharp snap of bones. She remembered the blood, so much blood, on their fists, on their boots. She remembered the searing terror of having no breath to gasp at the agony, no breath to cry out against the crushing weight of hurt.
Sometime afterwhether hours or days, she didn't knowwhen she was lying under clean sheets in an unfamiliar bed and had looked up into his gray eyes, she knew that, for some, the world reserved pain worse than she had suffered.
She didn't know his name. The profound anguish so apparent in his eyes told her beyond doubt that she should have. More than her own name, more than life itself, she knew she should have known his name, but she didn't. Nothing had ever shamed her more.
Thereafter, whenever her own eyes were closed, she saw his, saw not only the helpless suffering in them but also the light of such fierce hope as could only be kindled by righteous love. Somewhere, even in the worst of the darkness blanketing her mind, she refused to let the light in his eyes be extinguished by her failure to will herself to live.
At some point, she remembered his name. Most of the time, she remembered it. Sometimes, she didn't. Sometimes, when pain smothered her, she forgot even her own name.
Now, as Kahlan heard men growling his name, she knew it, she knew him. With tenacious resolution she clung to that nameRichardand to her memory of him, of who he was, of everything he meant to her.
Even later, when people had feared she would yet die, she knew she would live. She had to, for Richard, her husband. For the child she carried in her womb. His child. Their child.
The sounds of angry men calling Richard by name at last tugged Kahlan's eyes open. She squinted against the agony that had been tempered, if not banished, while in the cocoon of sleep. She was greeted by a blush of amber light filling the small room around her. Since the light wasn't bright, she reasoned that there must be a covering over a window muting the sunlight, or maybe it was dusk. Whenever she woke, as now, she not only had no sense of time, but no sense of how long she had been asleep.
She worked her tongue against the pasty dryness in her mouth. Her body felt leaden with the thick, lingering slumber. She was as nauseated as the time when she was little and had eaten three candy apples before a boat journey on a hot, windy day. It was hot like that now: summer hot. She struggled to rouse herself fully, but her awaking awareness seemed adrift, bobbing in a vast shadowy sea. Her stomach roiled. She suddenly had to put all her mental effort into not throwing up. She knew all too well that in her present condition, few things hurt more than vomiting. Her eyelids sagged closed again, and she foundered to a place darker yet.
She caught herself, forced her thoughts to the surface, and willed her eyes open again. She remembered: they gave her herbs to dull the pain and to help her sleep. Richard knew a good deal about herbs. At least the herbs helped her drift into stuporous sleep. The pain, if not as sharp, still found her there.
Slowly, carefully, so as not to twist what felt like double edged daggers skewered here and there between her ribs, she drew a deeper breath. The fragrance of balsam and pine filled her lungs, helping to settle her stomach. It was not the aroma of trees among other smells in the forest, among damp dirt and toadstools and cinnamon ferns, but the redolence of trees freshly felled and limbed. She concentrated on focusing her sight and saw beyond the foot of the bed a wall of pale, newly peeled timber, here and there oozing sap from fresh axe cuts. The wood looked to have been split and hewn in haste, yet its tight fit betrayed a precision only knowledge and experience could bestow.
The room was tiny; in the Confessors' Palace, where she had grown up, a room this small would not have qualified as a closet for linens. Moreover, it would have been stone, if not marble. She liked the tiny wooden room; she expected Richard would have built it to protect her. It felt almost like his sheltering arms around her. Marble, with its aloof dignity, never comforted her in that way.
Beyond the foot of the bed, she spotted a carving of a bird in flight. It had been sculpted with a few sure strokes of a knife into a log of the wall on a flat spot only a little bigger than her hand. Richard had given her something to look at. On occasion, sitting around a campfire, she had watched him casually carve a face or an animal from a scrap of wood. The bird, soaring on wings spread wide as it watched over her, conveyed a sense of freedom.
Turning her eyes to the right, she saw a brown wool blanket hanging over the doorway. From beyond the doorway came fragments of angry, threatening voices.
"It's not by our choice, Richard. ... We have our own families to think about ... wives and children..."
Wanting to know what was going on, Kahlan tried to push herself up onto her left elbow. Somehow, her arm didn't work the way she had expected it to. Like a bolt of lighting, pain blasted up the marrow of her bone and exploded through her shoulder.
Gasping against the racking agony of attempted movement, she dropped back before she had managed to lift her shoulder an inch off the bed. Her panting twisted the daggers piercing her sides. She had to will herself to slow her breathing in order to get the stabbing pain under control. As the worst of the torment in her arm and the stitches in her ribs eased, she finally let out a soft moan.
With calculated calm, she gazed down the length of her left arm. The arm was splinted. As soon as she saw it, she remembered that of course it was. She reproached herself for not thinking of it before she had tried to put weight on it. The herbs, she knew, were making her thinking fuzzy. Fearing to make another careless movement, and since she couldn't sit up, she focused her effort on forcing clarity into her mind.
She cautiously reached up with her right hand and wiped her fingers across the bloom of sweat on her brow, sweat sown by the flash of pain. Her right shoulder socket hurt, but it worked well enough. She was pleased by that triumph, at least. She touched her puffy eyes, understanding then why it had hurt to look toward the door. Gingerly, her fingers explored a foreign landscape of swollen flesh. Her imagination colored it a ghastly black-and-blue. When her fingers brushed cuts on her cheek hot embers seemed to sear raw, exposed nerves.
She needed no mirror to know she was a terrible sight. She knew, too, how bad it was whenever she looked up into Richard's eyes. She wished she could look good for him if for no other reason than to lift the suffering from his eyes. Reading her thoughts, he would say, "I'm fine. Stop worrying about me and put your mind to getting better."
With a bittersweet longing, Kahlan recalled lying with Richard, their limbs tangled in delicious exhaustion, his skin hot against hers, his big hand resting on her belly as they caught their breath. It was agony wanting to hold him in her arms again and being unable to do so. She reminded herself that it was only a matter of some time and some healing. They were together and that was what mattered. His mere presence was a restorative.
She heard Richard, beyond the blanket over the door, speaking in a tightly controlled voice, stressing his words as if each had cost him a fortune. "We just need some time..."
The men's voices were heated and insistent as they all began talking at once. "It's not because we want toyou should know that, Richard, you know us. ... What if it brings trouble here? . ... We've heard about the fighting. You said yourself she's from the Midlands. We can't allow ... we won't..."
Kahlan listened, expecting the sound of his sword being drawn. Richard had nearly infinite patience, but little tolerance. Cara, his bodyguard, their friend, was no doubt out there, too; Cara had neither patience nor tolerance.
Instead of drawing his sword, Richard said, "I'm not asking anyone to give me anything. I want only to be left alone in a peaceful place where I can care for her. I wanted to be close to Hartland in case she needed something." He paused. "Please ... just until she has a chance to get better."
Kahlan wanted to scream at him: No! Don't you dare beg them, Richard! They have no right to make you beg. They've no right! They could never understand the sacrifices you've made.
But she could do little more than whisper his name in sorrow.
"Don't test us. ... We'll burn you out if we have to! You can't fight us allwe have right on our side."
The men ranted and swore dark oaths. She expected, now, at last, to hear the sound of his sword being drawn. Instead, in a calm voice, Richard answered the men in words Kahlan couldn't quite make out. A dreadful quiet settled in.
"It's not because we like doing this, Richard," someone finally said a sheepish voice. "We've no choice. We've got to consider our own families and everyone else."
Another man spoke out with righteous indignation. "Besides, you seem to have gotten all high-and-mighty of a sudden, with your fancy clothes and sword, not like you used to be, back when you were a woods guide."
"That's right," said another. "Just because you went off and saw some of the world, that don't mean you can come back here thinking you're better than us."
"I've overstepped what you have all decided is my proper place," Richard said. "Is this what you mean to say?"
"You turned your back on your community, on your roots, as I see it; you think our women aren't good enough for the great Richard Cypher. No, he had to marry some woman from away. Then you come back here and think to flaunt yourselves over us."
"How? By doing what? Marrying the woman I love? This, you see as vain? This nullifies my right to live in peace? And takes away her the right to heal, to get well and live?"
These men knew him as Richard Cypher, a simple woods guide, not as the person he had discovered he was in truth, and who he had become. He was the same man as before, but in so many ways, they had never known him.
"You ought to be on your knees praying for the Creator to heal your wife," another man put in. "All of mankind is a wretched and undeserving lot. You ought to pray and ask the Creator's forgiveness for your evil deeds and sinfulnessthat's what brought your troubles on you and your woman. Instead, you want to bring your troubles among honest working folks. You've no right to try to force your sinful troubles on us. That's not what the Creator wants. You should be thinking of us. The Creator wants you to be humble and to help othersthat's why He struck her down: to teach you both a lesson."
"Did he tell you this, Albert?" Richard asked. "Does this Creator of yours come to talk with you about his intentions and confide in you his wishes?"
"He talks to anyone who has the proper modest attitude to listen to Him," Albert fumed.
"Besides," another man spoke up, "this Imperial Order you warn about has some good things to be said for it. If you weren't so bullheaded, Richard, you'd see that. There's nothing wrong with wanting to see everyone treated decent. It's only being fair minded. It's only right. Those are the Creator's wishes, you've got to admit, and that's what the Imperial Order teaches, too. If you can't see that much good in the Orderwell then, you'd best be gone, and soon."
Kahlan held her breath.
In an ominous tone of voice, Richard said, "So be it."
These were men Richard knew; he had addressed them by name and reminded them of years and deeds shared. He had been patient with them. Patience finally exhausted, he had reached intolerance.
Horses snorted and stomped, their leather tack creaking, as the men mounted up. "In the morning we'll be back to burn this place down. We'd better not catch you or yours anywhere near here, or you'll burn with it." After a few last curses, the men raced away. The sound of departing hooves hammering the ground rumbled through Kahlan's back. Even that hurt.
She smiled a small smile for Richard, even if he couldn't see it. She wished only he would not have begged on her behalf; he would never, she knew, have begged for anything for himself.
Light splashed across the wall as the blanket over the doorway was thrown back. By the direction and quality of the light, Kahlan guessed it had to be somewhere in the middle of a thinly overcast day. Richard appeared beside her, his tall form towering over her, throwing a slash of shadow across her middle.
He wore a black, sleeveless undershirt, without his shirt or magnificent gold and black tunic, leaving his muscular arms bare. At his left hip, the side toward her, a flash of light glinted off the pommel of his singular sword. His broad shoulders made the room seem even smaller than it had been only a moment before. His clean-shaven face, strong jaw, and the crisp line of his mouth perfectly complemented his powerful form. His hair, a color somewhere between blond and brown, brushed the nape of his neck. But it was the intelligence so clearly evident in those penetrating gray eyes of his that from the first had riveted her attention.
"Richard," Kahlan whispered, "I won't have you begging on my account."
The corners of his mouth tightening with the hint of a smile. "If I want to beg, I shall do so." He pulled her blanket up a little, making sure she was snugly covered, even though she was sweating. "I didn't know you were awake."
"How long have I been asleep?"
She figured it must have been quite a while. She didn't remember arriving at this place, or him building the house that now stood around her.
Kahlan felt more like a person in her eighties than one in her twenties. She had never been hurt before, not grievously hurt, anyway, not to the point of being on the cusp of death and utterly helpless for so long. She hated it, and she hated that she couldn't do the simplest things for herself. Most of the time she detested that more than the pain.
She was stunned to understand so unexpectedly and so completely life's frailty, her own frailty, her own mortality. She had risked her life in the past and had been in danger many times, but looking back she didn't know if she had ever truly believed that something like this could happen to her. Confronting the reality of it was crushing.
Something inside seemed to have broken that nightsome idea of herself, some confidence. She could so easily have died. Their baby could have died before it even had a chance to live.
"You're getting better," Richard said, as if in answer to her thoughts. "I'm not just saying that. I can see that you're healing."
She gazed into his eyes, summoning the courage to finally ask, "How do they know about the Order way up here?"
"People fleeing the fighting have been up this way. Men spreading the doctrine of the Imperial Order have been even here, to where I grew up. Their words can sound goodalmost make senseif you don't think, if you just feel. Truth doesn't seem to count for much," He added in afterthought. He answered the unspoken question in her eyes. "The men from the Order are gone. The fools out there were just spouting things they've heard, that's all."
"But they intend us to leave. They sound like men who keep the oaths they've sworn."
He nodded, but then some of his smile returned. "Do you know that we're very close to where I first met you, last autumn? Do you remember?"
"How could I ever forget the day I met you?"
"Our lives were in jeopardy back then and we had to leave here. I've never regretted it. It was the start of my life with you. As long as we're together, nothing else really matters."
Cara swept in through the doorway and came to a halt beside Richard, adding her shadow to his across the blue cotton blanket that covered Kahlan to her armpits. Sheathed in skintight red leather, Cara's body had the sleek grace of a falcon: commanding, swift, and deadly. Mord-Sith always wore their red leather when they believed there was going to be trouble. Cara's long blond hair, swept back into a single thick braid, was another mark of her profession of Mord-Sith, member of an elite corps of guards to the Lord Rahl himself.
Richard had, after a fashion, inherited the Mord-Sith when he inherited the rule of D'Hara, a place he grew up never knowing. Command was not something he had sought, nonetheless it had fallen to him. Now, a great many people depended on him. The entire New WorldWestland, the Midlands, and D'Haradepended on him.
"How do you feel?" Cara asked with sincere concern.
Kahlan was able to summon little more voice than a hoarse whisper. "I'm better."
"Well, if you feel better," Cara growled, "then tell Lord Rahl that he should allow me to do my job and put the proper respect into men like that." Her menacing blue eyes turned for a moment toward the spot where the men had been while delivering their threats. "The ones I leave alive, anyway."
"Cara, use your head," Richard said. "We can't turn this place into a fortress and protect ourselves every hour of every day. Those men are afraid. No matter how wrong they are, they view us as a danger to their lives and the lives of their families. We know better than to fight a senseless battle when we can avoid it."
"But Richard," Kahlan said, lifting her right hand in a weak gesture toward the wall before her, "you've built this"
"Only this room. I wanted a shelter for you first. It didn't take that longjust some trees cut and split. We've not built the rest of it yet. It's not worth shedding blood over."
If Richard seemed calm, Cara looked ready to chew steel and spit nails. "Would you tell this obstinate husband of yours to let me kill someone before I go crazy? I can't just stand around and allow people to get away with threatening the two of you! I am Mord-Sith!"
Cara took her job of protecting Richardthe Lord Rahl of D'Haraand Kahlan, very seriously. Where Richard's life was concerned, Cara was perfectly willing to kill first and decide later if it had been necessary. That was one of the things for which Richard had no tolerance.
Kahlan's only answer was a smile.
"Mother Confessor, you can't allow Lord Rahl to bow to the will of foolish men like those. Tell him."
Kahlan could probably count on the fingers of one hand the people who, in her whole life, had ever addressed her by the name "Kahlan" without at minimum the appellation "Confessor" before it. She had heard her ultimate titleMother Confessorspoken countless times, in tones ranging from awed reverence to shuddering fear. Many people, as they knelt before her, were incapable of even whispering through trembling lips the two words of her title. Others, when alone, whispered them with lethal intent.
Kahlan had been named Mother Confessor while still in her early twentiesthe youngest Confessor ever named to that powerful position. But that was several years past. Now, she was the only living Confessor left.
Kahlan had always endured the title, the bowing and kneeling, the reverence, the awe, the fear, and the murderous intentions, because she had no choice. But more than that, she was the Mother Confessorby succession and selection, by right, by oath, and by duty.
Cara always addressed Kahlan as "Mother Confessor." But from Cara's lips the words were subtly different than from any others. It was almost a challenge, a defiance by scrupulous compliance, but with a hint of an affectionate smirk. Coming from Cara, Kahlan didn't hear "Mother Confessor" so much as she heard "Sister." Cara was from the distant land of D'Hara. No one, anywhere, outranked Cara, as far as Cara was concerned, except the Lord Rahl. The most she would allow was that Kahlan could be her equal in duty to Richard. Being considered an equal by Cara, though, was high praise indeed.
When Cara addressed Richard as Lord Rahl, however, she was not saying "Brother." She was saying precisely what she meant: Lord Rahl.
To the men with the angry voices, the Lord Rahl was as foreign a concept as was the distant land of D'Hara. Kahlan was from the Midlands that separated D'Hara from the Westlands. The people here in the Westlands knew nothing of the Midlands or the Mother Confessor. For decades, the three parts of the New World had been separated by impassable boundaries, leaving what was beyond those boundaries shrouded in mystery. The autumn before, those boundaries had fallen.
And then, in the winter, the common barrier to the south of the three lands that had for three thousand years sealed away the menace of the Old World had been breached, loosing the Imperial Order on them all. In the last year, the world had been thrown into turmoil; everything everyone had grown up knowing had changed.
"I'm not going to allow you to hurt people just because they refuse to help us," Richard said to Cara. "It would solve nothing and only end up causing us more trouble. What we started here only took a short time to build. I thought this place would be safe, but it's not. We'll simply move on."
He turned back to Kahlan. His voice lost its fire.
"I was hoping to bring you home, to some peace and quiet, but it looks like home doesn't want me, either. I'm sorry."
"Just those men, Richard." In the land of Anderith, just before Kahlan had been attacked and beaten, the people had rejected Richard's offer to join the emerging D'Haran Empire he led in the cause of freedom. Instead, the people of Anderith willingly chose to side with the Imperial Order. Richard had taken Kahlan and walked away from everything, it seemed. "What about your real friends here?"
"I haven't had time ... I wanted to get a shelter up, first. There's no time now. Maybe later."
Kahlan reached for his hand, which hang at his side. His fingers were too far away. "But, Richard"
"Look, it's not safe to stay here anymore. It's as simple as that. I brought you here because I thought it would be a safe place for you to recover and regain your strength. I was wrong. It's not. We can't stay here. Understand?"
"We have to move on."
There was something more to this, she knewsomething of far greater importance than the more immediate ordeal it meant for her. There was a distant, troubled look in his eyes.
"But what of the war? Everyone is depending on uson you. I can't be much help until I get better, but they need you right now. The D'Haran Empire needs you. You are the Lord Rahl. You lead them. What are we doing here? Richard..." She waited until his eyes turned to look at her. "Why are we running away when everyone is counting on us?"
"I'm doing as I must."
"As you must? What does that mean?"
Shadow shrouded his face as he looked away.
"I've ... had a vision."
Excerpted from Faith of the Fallen by Terry Goodkind. Copyright © 2000 by Terry Goodkind. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.